Tune In to the Best Backpacking Podcasts

Backpacking 101 is in session—whether you’re a freshman on the trails or ready for an advanced degree in thru-hiking

By Jenna Schnuer

March 22, 2017


Photo by franckreporter/iStock

Whether you’re still knee-deep in snow (as we are here in Alaska) or already stopping to smell an abundance of spring flowers (show-offs), backpacking should be on the brain. It’s just about high season for hitting the trails, and there’s no time like the present to start gathering your gear and upping your skills. Not sure how to get started? Hit Play on these podcasts. And if you’re a seasoned backpacker seeking to go bigger this season—hitting tougher terrain for longer periods of time—you’ll find wisdom in these episodes, too.

For Freshman Initiation

The First 40 Miles: Hiking and Backpacking Podcast

You can cobble a course syllabus together via a variety of podcasts. Or, you can simply hit Play on The First 40 Miles. This immersion class in backpacking and hiking launched in 2014; its hosts—happy hiking couple Heather and Josh Legler—discuss everything from must-have gear to how to manage waste (of all kinds; get your trowel ready!). Heather was a complete beginner on the backpacking front when she met Josh, so you’ll be in good company. Plus, the archives offer a fun way to witness how the Leglers have honed their podcasting prowess over time. Be forewarned, early-day episodes sound a little less than polished (but, hey, backpacking is nothing if not rough around the edges), and some of their early gear advice is now outdated. For instance, the Leglers initially recommended leaving cellphones behind. Thanks to today’s tiny battery power packs, improved in-phone cameras, and increasingly excellent map apps, cell phones are now a must-bring. The best starting point is not at this series’ very beginning. Instead, tune in to episode 105—“Is there a right and proper way to backpack?” Short answer: No. I’ll leave the long answer to the Leglers.

For Upperclassmen

Science of Survival

Now that you’ve got the backpacking bug, make sure you know how to keep it from killing you (joking! Sort of). One of Outside magazine’s podcasts focuses on outdoor survivalism. An essential episode for backpackers (or day hikers or anybody else who digs colder-weather outdoor adventures): “Frozen Alive,” a fascinating deep-temperature dive into the horrible things that happen to your body as hypothermia sets in. This podcast covers everything from the science of “pre-shivering muscle tone,” which takes place when your body temperature drops to 97 degrees, to the stupor that sets in at 90 degrees and below. Beware: The narrator's voice on the episode is super calm and peaceful. Don’t let her lull you to sleep—you might have a frozen nightmare. 

Encounters: Radio Experiences in the North

Host Richard Nelson may be one of the most enthusiastic voices you’ll come across in the backpacking sphere—even when he’s covered in mosquitoes. While his show covers all manner of information about the animals and outdoor phenomena of Alaska, most episodes apply to other states, too. Essential listening if your backpacking life takes you to bear country: the “Bear Safety” episode.

For Those Seeking an Advanced Backpacking Degree

Sounds of the Trail

So, you’re thinking about bagging work for the next bunch of months and taking a thru-hike, eh? We’ve got your guides. The thru-hikers who do the talking on these series often sound dazed and confused, but perhaps they’re just super relaxed. After all, they’re thru-hiking! Or maybe they’re tired? Listen to the whole series to hear some great adventure stories, and to glean enough tips to make you reconsider your dream. Again, we kid—don’t give up on thru-hiking. Clear that schedule and never forget that duct tape and triple antibiotic ointment can fix many a problem. If you want to get right to the good (OK, and the bad) stuff, dig in with “I didn’t know…” to bone up on what you should know before you go. Hint: The hosts sound pretty tired. But happy. Mostly.

S’more Outdoor

Look at you, leaning against your perfectly packed pack, a stream-chilled beer in hand, dreaming of ways to turn your backpacking passion into a full-time job or source of inspiration for others (what, you think nobody else does that?). S’more Outdoor podcaster Brett Traudt interviews people who have done what you want to do—they’ve put the “nature effect” to work for them, often in a full-time capacity. Though some of its content will make people who hate phrases like “living the life you were meant to live” cringe, S’more Outdoor should not be dismissed. Go listen to its subjects’ stories. Tear off chunks of their wisdom as though you’ve just finished a 15-mile day and you’re anxious to get into that huge piece of jerky at the bottom of your pack. Start with episode 44, which features Greg Hembree. The founder and CEO of Woodline Adventures, an outdoor education company, Hembree is also a veteran dedicated to helping fellow vets reconnect with their families and recover from trauma through outdoor recreation.